The 2023 college football season moves into Week 14, otherwise knowns as conference championship weekend. Teams will either punch tickets to the College Football Playoff or will knock themselves out of the running. There are some fascinating playoff debates and discussions if certain results emerge this weekend. The biggest what-if scenario is if Alabama upsets Georgia in the SEC Championship Game. Many people think that even though Georgia is the two-time defending national champion with a 12-0 record, the Bulldogs – if they lose and fall to 12-1 – would be out of the playoff if Florida State beats Louisville and Michigan beats Iowa. We don’t know for sure that Georgia would be out, but it would become the topic of conversation if the Dawgs lose to Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide.
At any rate, the games have to be played first, and we need to see what happens on the field this weekend. Here’s a look at some previews with odds from Bovada (and check out the full Bovada review).
Big Ten Championship Game:
Iowa Hawkeyes vs. Michigan Wolverines (In Indianapolis)
Odds: Michigan -21.5
This is a fascinating game for a lot of reasons, the main one being that if you look at the odds, Michigan is favored by 21.5 points with an over-under total of 34.5. That means the expected team totals for this game are 28 for Michigan, 6.5 for Iowa. That’s right: Iowa is expected to score less than one touchdown and one extra point in this game. Betting markets for Iowa’s team totals are setting relatively even odds for Iowa scoring under three points in each half of this game. In other words, if Iowa kicks just one field goal per half, it will go over its expected per-half total in each half. That’s crazy. We rarely see lines like that in any college football game.
Yet, when you look at Iowa’s offensive personnel and you match that up against Michigan’s defense, it’s a very realistic approach to this game. It will indeed be very difficult for Iowa to score against Michigan, but the idea that Iowa won’t get at least one touchdown at some point – it could come off a Michigan turnover or perhaps a kick return which sets up the Hawkeyes in good field position – is still hard to accept.
The other thing to keep in mind about this game is that Michigan just played Ohio State. That’s the biggest game of Michigan’s season every year. It’s an emotionally draining game. It requires a lot from Michigan to face Ohio State’s elite receivers and skilled athletes. The idea that Michigan will play a crisp, efficient, mistake-free game one week after facing Ohio State doesn’t seem probable. This doesn’t mean Michigan can’t or won’t cover the spread; it only means that Michigan will probably make one or two mistakes at some point which will enable Iowa to score one touchdown and maybe 10 total points. If you’re thinking about the over-unders for Iowa’s team total, you should play the over if only because those totals are so small.
In terms of the full-game spread, Michigan will probably need to score over 30 points in order to cover. If it allows 10 points to Iowa, it will need to score at least 32. Given how well Iowa’s defense has played all season long, and given that Michigan quarterback J.J. McCarthy has not produced top-level statistics this season, it’s a decent bet that Iowa can hold Michigan under 30 points. It’s not an absolute stone-cold lock, but it is more probable than not that Iowa will be able to cover a spread which is just over three touchdowns. If the spread was 20.5 and not 21.5, that would be a very different conversation, because a 31-10 Michigan final score seems like a distinct possibility in this game.
Pick: Iowa +21.5
Big 12 Championship Game:
Oklahoma State Cowboys vs. Texas Longhorns (in Arlington, Texas)
Odds: Texas -14.5
The Texas Longhorns have a lot to play for in the Big 12 Championship Game. Start with the Big 12 championship itself. Texas hasn’t won it since 2009, so that would be a very big deal for the Longhorns. Beyond that, Texas has a path to the playoff if Florida State loses to Louisville and Alabama beats Georgia. Texas beat Alabama on the road earlier this season, so in a possible head-to-head debate with Alabama also involved, Texas would have a legitimate chance of getting into the playoff.
Oklahoma State is a fascinating team. The Cowboys looked really bad early in the season, losing at home to South Alabama and then falling to Iowa State early in Big 12 play. However, they regrouped by beating Kansas State and Oklahoma at home. They trailed BYU for most of the game this past weekend, and were in danger of squandering their chance to play in this conference championship contest, but they rallied to beat BYU in overtime. Oklahoma State doesn’t look like an especially impressive team, but it has won a boatload of close games and has a knack for making the big play in a key situation.
Texas is very likely to win this game outright, but Oklahoma State is the overachiever who simply refuses to accept defeat. OSU is probably going to be able to keep this game close enough to cover the spread. Texas’s offense will need to be perfect to blow the doors off this game. Chances are the Longhorns will run into turbulence at a few points in this game.
Pick: Oklahoma State +14.5
ACC Championship Game:
Louisville Cardinals vs. Florida State Seminoles (in Charlotte)
Odds: Florida State -2.5
The Louisville Cardinals have had a great season, but they really let one slip away last week against archrival Kentucky. Louisville was in firm control of the game, leading 24-14 late in the third quarter. Louisville had produced a touchdown drive of over nine minutes earlier in that quarter. The Cardinals’ offense was moving the ball easily against Kentucky’s defense. One of Kentucky’s two touchdowns was a kick return, so Louisville’s defense had given up only one score up to that point.
Then, however, the Louisville defense collapsed. Kentucky scored 24 points in the final 18 minutes of the game. Louisville committed huge turnovers to change the flow of the game. The Cardinals lost, 38-31, a painful defeat near the end of a regular season in which this team has overachieved. No one expected Louisville to be 10-2, and yet many people will say the Cardinals should be 11-1 right now.
Louisville has to forget the memory of its collapse against Kentucky. They have to turn its focus to Florida State, whose star quarterback, Jordan Travis, is out for the rest of the season. Backup Tate Rodemaker is the new quarterback for the Seminoles. Even he’s a game-time decision. Sure, Florida State is unbeaten and can clinch a spot in the College Football Playoff if they win this game. If you watched Florida State play Florida last weekend, you noticed how limited the FSU offense is with Rodemaker substituting.
That’s a severe downgrade for Florida State at quarterback. And now Rodemaker might not even play. Florida State will likely struggle on offense in this game. The Seminoles know that Louisville has one of the better defenses in the country, despite the Cardinals’ fourth-quarter implosion against Kentucky. Louisville has been very consistent at outscoring its opponents in the first quarter. Louisville’s defense usually gets off to a very good start in its games. If Florida State does fall behind, Louisville should gain confidence and be able to play this game the way it wants to.
Louisville won’t score a lot against Florida State’s very good defense, but if the UL defense plays up to its normal standards, Florida State won’t be able to gain control of this game at any point. Louisville is getting two points in this game. No one would be that surprised if this game came down to a 2-point conversion or a last-second field goal. Louisville is getting points and is therefore the slightly better selection in a game which seems too close to call.
Pick: Louisville +2.5 at BetOnline
SEC Championship Game:
Georgia Bulldogs vs. Alabama Crimson Tide
Odds: Georgia -5.5
The big one on Saturday is in Atlanta. Georgia is 12-0 and trying to make the College Football Playoff with an eye toward a third straight national championship. No team in college football has won three consecutive national titles since the Minnesota Golden Gophers in 1934, 1935, and 1936. Georgia is trying to make a special kind of history. The Bulldogs, however, have not dominated opponents the way they usually did in 2021 and 2022. One thing which jumps off the page about Georgia is the number of times the Dawgs have fallen behind 7-0 or 7-3 in the first quarter. That has happened in several of their games this season.
It happened against Tennessee, it happened against Georgia Tech, and it has happened at various times in 2023. If Alabama gets an early 7-0 lead, that would hardly guarantee the Crimson Tide an outright victory. Georgia has been a great second-half team this season and always recovers from its early stumbles. However, Alabama is a better team than what Georgia has faced. The Tide would at least be able to keep this game close deep into the fourth quarter and ultimately cover the spread. Alabama quarterback Jalen Milroe has developed a lot over the course of the season. His running ability will test Georgia’s defense. Even if Alabama doesn’t score a lot of points, it can convert first downs with Milroe and keep Georgia’s offense off the field. Alabama is in a position to shorten this game, limit Georgia’s offensive opportunities, and ultimately cover the spread.